Property owners to vote for Class B trustee Saturday

The election for Chautauqua Institution’s open Class B trustee seat will take place immediately after the Chautauqua Property Owners Association’s Annual Business Meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy. 

Sara Ponkow Falvo, left, and James Zuegel

All property owners are eligible to vote in the election, regardless of membership in the CPOA. 

The Charter of 1902, enacted by the New York State Legislature, established Chautauqua Institution as a not-for-profit organization. Under the charter, the government and control of the Institution is assigned to a board consisting of 24 trustees; 20 are designated Class A and are elected by the trustees themselves, while four are designated as Class B and are elected by Chautauqua property owners, as members of the Chautauqua Corporation. All 24 trustees are equal fiduciaries of Chautauqua Institution, regardless of classification. Each trustee is elected to a four-year term and is eligible to run for two consecutive terms

The CPOA typically recommends or endorses a candidate for nomination every election cycle. Any member of the Chautauqua Corporation, regardless of their membership in the CPOA, can be nominated by the CPOA or self-nominate and run for an open seat separately. Chautauqua Institution leadership coordinates and oversees the election. 

“We have a really good level of experience and understanding with what the community needs and wants,” said Erica Higbie, CPOA president.  “When we interview the people who put their name to us asking for our nomination, we really have a very detailed process.” 

The CPOA has a committee of five people from different backgrounds who interview Chautauquans seeking nominations. In 2022, the CPOA has nominated and endorsed Sara Ponkow Falvo, who is running against self-nominated James Zuegel for the open Class B trustee seat.

Sara Ponkow Falvo

Lifelong and second-generation Chautauquan Sara Ponkow Falvo wears multiple hats when it comes to her Chautauqua experience.  

“Not only am I a property owner, but I’m also a business owner on the Chautauqua grounds. I’ve been someone who was employed by Chautauqua Institution. In my younger years as a teen, I worked at the main gate, as a lifeguard and as a swim counselor at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club,” Falvo said. “I understand how those organizations are run and the issues they face within Chautauqua.”

Falvo’s children, ages 12 and 15, have both attended Children’s School and are currently attending Boys’ and Girls’ Club. 

From this, along with her other involvement at Chautauqua, Falvo feels she has experienced a wide variety of what Chautauqua offers. 

Since 2017, Falvo has owned the Dragonfly Inn, where she has firsthand experience working with first-time and longtime Chautauquans. 

“I have a unique opportunity to see Chautauqua with a 360-degree view, from inside the community and outside the community,” Falvo said. “That brings a uniqueness to me to serve as a trustee in that capacity.”

Falvo, a physician currently in practice in Buffalo, New York, holds local professional experience through her work in the emergency room of WCA Hospital in Jamestown and Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, New York. She has also held multiple CPOA positions as a board member and representative. 

“I have about 30 years of advocacy under my belt, 20 years as a physician. (In that work) I don’t advocate for myself, ever. We advocate for what’s really best for the patient,” Falvo said. “… The goal here is to have constructive conversations in order to bring action.”

Falvo hopes if she is elected as a Class B trustee, she can foster transparency with the public and work toward continued diversity and sustainability for Chautauqua’s future.

“I’m a doer, an effective communicator and leader. I actively listen to people’s concerns and I seek to transform them into real solutions with a team approach. I’m focused on the future of Chautauqua, its diversity and sustainability,” Falvo said. “I want people from all walks of life, and for our children and grandchildren, and all subsequent generations, to be able to experience Chautauqua as we do and as we have.”

Falvo said that her favorite part of Chautauqua is the community.  

“It’s a beautiful, unique, sacred, shared space. I love its sense of community,” Falvo said. “I love the people, the porches, the lake, the arts, the intellect. I love seeing multigenerational families spending time together. You can walk down the street, meet a stranger, have a conversation with them and, within five minutes, this is a new lifelong friend. That’s unique to Chautauqua.”

James Zuegel 

Lifelong and seventh-generation Chautauquan, James Zuegel grew up in Western New York and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

“A real strength that I could bring as a trustee is I am remote. I’m not there all summer,” Zuegel said. “I think having someone from the West Coast would be a huge benefit. Not far from where we live is where the Chautauqua of the Pacific used to be, located in Pacific Grove.”

Zuegel, a father of two, ages 28 and 22, who have both attended Children’s School and Boys’ and Girls’ Club, is also the son of parents active in building and revitalizing Chautauqua. 

“I spent time in Chautauqua with my parents. … I bought the property next to theirs,” Zuegel said. “I’ve got (the) homegrown part of it, but I think there’s real value in bringing that outside perspective.”

Zuegel has 26 years of experience as an operations executive in the medical device industry and as an engineer developing medical technologies. He said this experience can help him be a valued problem-solver for Chautauqua.

“I’ve always thought I would want to be very engaged and involved in Chautauqua,” Zuegel said.

Zuegel hopes if he is elected as a Class B trustee that he can continue to advocate for diversity and inclusion. As a father of a son with special needs, he has advocated for increased support and opportunities at Chautauqua. 

“One of my top goals is inclusion and diversity. …  We have a son who is autistic and it’s been a wonderful experience for him at Chautauqua, but I think we can do more,” Zuegel said. “I’d like to help be a voice for that, and not just a criticizing voice — but someone with experience … building communities and inclusion for our son.”

Zuegel has enjoyed the balance that is offered at Chautauqua. 

“There are people that live not far away, and the husband and or wife may work during the week and come up on the weekend. It gives them the chance to balance,” Zuegel said. “People who work remotely have the ability to do that.”

Zuegel finds that his favorite parts of Chautauqua have been the safety and the sense of community.

“There are very few places I can think of where people let their kids wander around, play on the streets, … and this feeling when I was a kid — we used to play in the neighborhood and mom and dad weren’t having to keep us under lock for fear of safety,” Zuegel said.

Editor’s note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Chautauqua Property Owners Association’s Annual Business Meeting and election for Chautauqua Institution’s open Class B trustee seat were rescheduled for Friday, August 19 at 3:30 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy.

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The author Cassidey Kavathas

Cassidey Kavathas, a Buffalo native, is a rising junior journalism student at St. Bonaventure University. This is her first summer at the Daily. She is covering Advancement, Institution administration, the board of trustees, the CPOA and dance. She serves as editor-in-chief at her college’s newspaper, as well as news director at her college’s radio station. Cassidey has previously reported for PolitiFact NY, The Olean Times Herald, TAPInto Greater Olean and St. Bonaventure University’s advancements office.